Beyond the big bad wolves of medieval folk tales, animals are mostly appropriated these days for innocent children’s entertainment. From Looney Tunes‘s Bugs Bunny to Ratatouille‘s Remy, fuzzy woodland creatures are now regularly stripped of their primal natures in the name of cuddly, moral-leveraging amusement. But David Sedaris’s Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary — essentially an R-rated answer to Aesop’s Fables — reaffirms that pop culture has had an equally engaged, if somewhat less overt, relationship with animal characters intended for mature audiences. From books to comics, movies to street art, and puppets to paintings, the following artists have created a spectrum of grown-up animal iconography that’s best kept away from young eyes.
David Garnett’s slim, award-winning novel Lady into Fox tells the story of a man whose wife suddenly and inexplicably transforms into a literal vixen. Although the newly fur-covered young woman insists on maintaining her dignified, lady-like decorum — wearing clothing, playing cards — she eventually meets a rather inhumane death at the primal jaws of hunting dogs. Not quite a fairy tale ending, but from the imagination of a Bloomsbury group member known to his friends as “Bunny” (after a rabbit skin cloak he wore as a child) it’s not all that outlandish of a concept.